Hugh Jackman, right, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe, left, warble for… (Laurie Sparham / Universal…)
Just as a political candidate waits to announce a candidacy until just the right moment, the holiday weekend saw a splashy launch for the big-screen adaptation of the blockbuster stage musical “Les Miserables” complete with a simple, core message – the singing was done live on set by the actors – and something akin to an oft-repeatable stump speech.
In an ambitious series of screenings on both coasts, the film played three times across two venues in New York City on Friday (as well as in Los Angeles to the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the producers of this year’s Oscars telecast and a small coterie of talent reps) before screening more broadly to the media and awards voters in L.A. across three venues for a total of six shows on Saturday. Director Tom Hooper and some of his cast traveled from New York to L.A. with the film, with Hooper leaving the next day to go on to promote the film in Japan.
Hooper wrapped the sound mix the previous Sunday, and finished up detail work on the film at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day – "Probably things no one will even notice," he said. The filmmaker now faces pressure to come straight out of the dark recesses of the editing room already on-message and prepped for the awards campaign spotlight.
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Introducing a noon Saturday show at the Chinese 6 multiplex in Hollywood, Hooper walked out unannounced in front of an audience who nevertheless greeted him with applause. "I’m the director of 'Les Miserables,' Tom Hooper," he said before noting that if the audience is there for a screening, “it must mean one thing, I’ve finished the movie.” It was a line he would repeat throughout the day.
Hooper noted that "The King’s Speech," his previous film, which won four Oscars including best picture and director, opened over Thanksgiving, before introducing “Les Miz” cast members Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks to the audience. He also noted that Helen Mirren and her husband, Taylor Hackford, were in the audience. (Hooper directed Mirren in the television miniseries"Elizabeth I" and Hackford happens to be president of the Directors Guild.)
"I feel almost as nervous as if the real queen were in the audience,” Hooper said before adding to a room full of guild members, “I owe my understanding of the importance of being in a guild to Taylor."
Once the show had begun, Hooper briefly watched from the wings before the team decamped for the Aero Theatre across town in Santa Monica to make a Q&A session following the noon screening that was underway there.
Leaping right from the intense, detail-oriented work of finishing his film to the relentless glad-handing of promoting it with barely a day in between might seem jarring, but Hooper seemed unfazed.
"Actually, weirdly, I find it almost better," he said in an interview tucked into a cramped office off the projection booth after the Aero Q&A session. "When there is a long gap, you go away to do other things and so when you promote a film you have to get back into what the frame of mind was when you were making it. With this, I’m completely in the frame of mind, the decisions and the journey I’m on, and I’m still inside it. So actually it’s oddly easier to talk about it as I’m still in the making phase."
Coming off the tremendous success of "The King’s Speech" would seem to put even more pressure on Hooper with his follow-up, but he coolly deflected away from himself and back to the larger project.
"I would say that what’s more of a factor on this is the fact that it’s 'Les Miserables,'" he said. "I think the thing that’s put such a spotlight on it is not me but the fact that I’m doing something that people hold to their hearts in a protective way and care about deeply."
So then does the pressure of expectation become an anxiety to simply not mess it up?
"All I would say is it’s not my first experience with that pressure," Hooper noted, adding that much of his work has dealt with iconic subject matter, from the American Revolution in the HBO minseries"John Adams" to the current monarch’s father in "The King’s Speech," a legendary figure in the soccer world in "The Damned United" and a notorious child killer in"Longford."
"I’m interested in having a relationship with the iconic because people then come into the movie already with an engagement with the subject matter and I find that an interesting place to be as a filmmaker," he said.
Asked specifically if the Oscar prospects of "Les Miserables" were on his mind as he was making the film, Hooper said it wasn’t something he had been worrying about.